This actually happened a long time ago, in Sant Angelo, Vittoria said. A story she heard from her grandmother, who in turn heard it from her own grandmother.
It goes like this. A nobleman approached a fisherman and said he’d pay forty ducats for a ride to a distant rock out in the sea.
“Whatever you wish, Signore,” the fisherman said, pocketing the gold.
“But I need to arrive there at midnight, no later,” the nobleman said.
At eleven that night the nobleman climbed aboard the fisherman’s boat. When they arrived at the rock the distant tolling of the village’s church bell said it was a quarter to twelve.
They waited. Then the bell tolled midnight.
“Fortune!” the nobleman cried out. “Fortune!”
But nobody responded.
The nobleman again shouted Fortune’s name, and there suddenly appeared a beautiful and cheerful girl.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“You must stop sending me gold. I have so much I can not find a place to put it.”
The girl laughed. “I will send you so much that you will drown in it! Now go away!”
As the fisherman rowed the nobleman back to shore, he formed a plan. The next night HE would secretly go to the distant rock and, like the nobleman, call out Fortune’s name. Yes, he must, he said to himself. Because his children go around barefoot. They are always hungry.
The next night the fisherman departed. Not at eleven, but at nine, just to make sure that he would arrive before midnight. He waited. Finally the village church bell tolled midnight.
“Fortune!” he shouted. “Fortune!”
But no one responded.
He called Fortune’s name again.
And then appeared not a beautiful and cheerful young maiden, but an ugly old man with an evil look on his face.
“What do you want?” the old man shouted.
“Give me some penny!” the fisherman said. “My children have no shoes. They are hungry all the time.”
“Imbecille! You got those forty ducats from the nobleman only because I was asleep. If I had been awake, you would have gotten nothing. Now go away!
“While we’re on the subject of boats,” Vittoria said when she finished the folk tale, “you might be interested in a ride I took when I was in Italy.”
“Yes, I would. Where did you go?”
“Out in the sea, in a rowboat. To cast a spell.”
“Ah ha! I knew you were up to some mischief when you were away.”
“You think this is a joke?”
“You’re smiling, aren’t you? So what am I supposed to think?”
“Forget it. I shouldn’t be talking about this anyway.”
“Come on. Spill the beans. I won’t tell anyone.”
“You better not. You’d be in BIG trouble.”
“I will be silent forever.”
“All right. I rowed out at night, during a full moon. I threw snake skins on the water. I should have had some of your hair, but I figured it would work without it.”
“What kind of spell was it?”
She slapped me sharply on my cheek. “Imbecille! What in hell kind do you think it was?”
“A love spell?”
That’s just one of the many charming things that drew me to that girl. She told me one fascinating story after another, and I just never knew what she’d come up with next. Folklore, spells. To my mind they were all of a piece. Stuff handed down generations in her family in that isolated village high up on the slopes of Mt. Epemeo.
I knew what I felt for Vittoria did not really come from any snakeskin spell cast from a boat on the sea in the light of a full moon, it was just romantic to think it did.
My love came from my own heart and soul. It was NOT imposed upon me by anyone or anything from the outside.
That, I knew for sure, was a natural fact.